Parents often think about their carefree childhood. They forget that those days were not always so carefree. It is true that children do not worry about paying the bills or losing their jobs like adults do. But there are many things that place stress on them. This is especially true for students who struggle in school because they feel that no matter how hard they try they will still fail. I once had a friend who is learning disabled tell me that he barely remembers being in high school because it was so painful for him.
Some common stressors in children’s lives are:
- Too much going on. Many children leave school and go directly to sports, music lessons, or other extracurricular activities. These are healthy for children, but if there is no "down time" in your child’s life, they can put too much stress on them.
- Disagreements with friends. Children have arguments with their friends just like adults do. They need to learn ways to deal with their disagreements without losing their close friends. This is where parents can help—first talking with them about the problem and then helping them figure out what they need to do about it.
- Worry about high stakes testing in school. Children are constantly reminded by both parents and teachers that they must pass certain standardized tests in school or they "won’t be able to graduate." Children should be encouraged to do their best on these tests, but they should not worry constantly about them. There are ways to help your children do better on these tests but telling them how important it is to do well is not one of them!
- Concern about school failure. Struggling students do not often experience success. They spend much of their day feeling inept. They need help figuring out what the root of the school problems are and figuring out what to do about them.
What can parents do to help their children?
- First of all, when you notice your child seems unusually stressed or unhappy, talk to them about it. Use a tone that conveys that you genuinely care about what is happening in their life rather than a, "What is it now?" kind of tone. Children (especially boys) often have trouble expressing their emotions, and helping them to identify their feelings can be helpful. You can ask, "You seem to be worried about something. What’s on your mind?" This may open the door for a heart-to-heart conversation about what is stressing your child.
- Secondly, help your child think of positive ways to relieve their stress. Children need exercise and creative play time. They might need a healthy snack to eat or to get a little extra rest. Encourage them to do something really fun that takes their mind off of what is worrying them.
- Seek help for your child in school. If your child’s stress comes primarily from problems in school, call your child’s teacher or the school psychologist to request their help.
Be sure to spend some quality time with your children during the holiday season. Allow them to play (even your older children), rest, watch television, and totally forget about the things that place stress on their lives. I hope you have a wonderful holiday filled with plenty of family fun.